Lindesay Low deputy director of legal affairs at SWA (Photo: Robert Perry)
Lindesay Low deputy director of legal affairs at SWA (Photo: Robert Perry)

Protecting Scotch whisky in Brexit’s aftermath

The Scotch whisky industry is robust enough to continue to thrive after Brexit, but the sector is calling for a clearer direction of travel from the government as the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU).

This was the message from Lindesay Low, deputy legal director of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), speaking at an event hosted by Lawrie IP, an independent Scottish firm of patent and trade mark attorneys.

The event marked the recent move by Lawrie IP to its new head office at 310 St Vincent Street, Glasgow – formerly Whyte & Mackay’s global headquarters. The relocation to the newly refurbished office from its original base at Pacific Quay is to accommodate team expansion following several client wins.

Sharon Mackison, a director at Lawrie IP and a chartered trade mark and design attorney, introduced the event. She said: ‘We advise all types of clients on all forms of intellectual property (IP). Over the years we’ve developed a portfolio of clients across the food and drink industry. We have been particularly busy on the trade mark side in the drinks industry. So, we thought what better topic for our first event in our new office than Scotch whisky.’

The event included a Scotch whisky tasting from Douglas Laing & Co, an independent blender and bottler headquartered in Glasgow.

Cara Laing, director of whisky at Douglas Laing & Co, and Chris Leggat, chief executive officer at the firm, introduced blended malt whiskies from its Remarkable Regional Malts portfolio. This includes: the Epicurean Cask Strength Glasgow Limited Edition bottling; Rock Island 21 Years Old; Big Peat; Timorous Beastie 10 Years Old and Scallywag 12 Years Old.

Lindesay Low deputy director of legal affairs at SWA (Photo: Robert Perry)

Ms Laing said: ‘We are very much a family-owned business, now in its third generation. We were established in 1948 by my grandfather and we’re very proud of our Glasgow heritage.’

Mr Leggat added that its Regional Malt series is the fastest growing blended malt brand in the world. It grew 40.9 per cent between 2015 and 2017, while the category as a whole expanded by 5.6 per cent.

On the evening, Mr Low discussed the need for legal protection of Scotland’s national drink. He covered the possible impact of Brexit on intellectual property (IP) and emphasised the need to maintain the status of Scotch Whisky as a geographical indication (GI) – a product that must be made in Scotland from water, cereals and yeast and matured in oak barrels for at least three years.

He explained: ‘With the EU being the largest trading bloc for Scotch whisky, Brexit is a matter for concern. But I think the situation for Scotch if the UK leaves the EU, regardless of what happens, is not going to be as desperate as some commentators might say.

‘We have been assured by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that it has a UK system of GIs ready to go as soon as we leave the EU. That will make sure we’re protected.

‘In the EU, we have to remember that Scotch whisky and other food products already have a registered right that protects EU consumers from fraud. The European Commission would have to actively take away that right and we feel that is very unlikely.

Sharon Mackison, director at Lawrie IP (Photo: Robert Perry)

‘The possible slight complication is that, in many overseas markets around the world, we gain access and protection through agreements between the EU and those countries. That is something we’re monitoring very carefully. If we drop out of the EU, we’ll also drop out of those agreements. However, the Department of International Trade is gradually filling in the gaps by signing continuity agreements. We’re getting there.

‘Our message to the UK government is clear – we urge politicians to find a way forward and give the industry certainty. The industry is robust; we will deal with it.’

Lawrie IP has estimated that, In the case of a no deal Brexit, the action that may need to be taken to ensure businesses across all sectors continue to have UK coverage for their EU trademarks could cost more than £500 million – about £50m for UK companies.

That is because pending EU trademarks – of which there are almost 340,000 – will not have legal effect in the UK, and trade mark applicants will have to reapply, which is expected to cost in excess of £350m, and more than £35m for UK businesses.

Speaking about the success of Scotch Whisky and its importance to the UK economy, Mr Low said Scotch Whisky has grown to be a global export industry from humble beginnings more than 500 years ago. Exports of Scotch were worth a record £4.7 billion last year.

He explained: ‘In looking at what has made Scotch so successful, there is one thing I think I would like to make sure is not ignored. That is the IP aspect, with many Scotch whiskies becoming international brands.’